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Tucked away in a recent National Audit Office report on the NHS and social care regulator, the Care Quality Commission, is the extraordinary statistic that the number of whistleblowers who tipped off the regulator fell by a staggering 16 per cent to 7452 in 2016-17. That is one in six fewer whistleblowers than the previous year. See paragraph 2.19 of the report.
The figure compares with 153,000 members of the public – an increase of one per cent – expressing concerns about services during the same period.
I have written about this in Tribune this week.
And the latest figures come after a report by Robert Francis QC to Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary,which was highly critical of the way some had been treated after they made a complaint.
In 2015, Francis reported widespread severe victimisation of staff by senior management when they spoke up for patients. Francis recognised that sacked whistleblowers are blacklisted and recommended a re-employment scheme but nothing seems to have come of it.
His most substantial recommendation was for a National Guardian to protect staff. This led the CQC to create a part time post with no powers. The first appointee, Dame Eileen Sills, quit before starting.
Since then Dr Henrietta Hughes . a GP has been appointed as National Guardian, on a four day week. And according to the CQC yesterday marked her first year as the National Guardian for the NHS with the publication of her first case review report and her annual report highlighting the work of Freedom to Speak Up Guardians.
The one case review she published covered Southport and Ormskirk Health Trust which has the unenviable reputation for bullying and discriminating against black and ethnic minority staff , a dodgy appointments system favouring some people against others and an attitude of not bothering when staff raise concerns about patients. This might sound familiar incidently for those who have followed my articles on staff practices at the Equality and Human Rights Commission but we should wait for the employment tribunals to see what happened there.
Dr Hughes has recommended a series of recommendations to put matters right – 22 in all – and there is promise from the interim chief executive of the trust, Karen Jackson, to act with a new senior management team. We shall see. Also this was a trial – how many reports are we going to get from her in future?
The National Guardian has also produced a series of high flown documents which sound terribly good in theory – but again I think we should wait to see what happens.
What has happened so far is that the appointment of a national guardian has coincided with a drop in whistleblowers telling the CQC when things are going wrong.
What we do know is that staff do lose jobs are blacklisted and get the reputation of being troublemakers. There is a website which covers 11 such cases here. All designed I suspect to cover up an NHS and care system creaking at the seams and not being adequately financed. I hope Dr Hughes does not turn out to be a convenient fig leaf for a service in trouble.